Sunday, 14 July 2013

One Punk Spends Long Road Trip 2013 Vol.1

Some things in life are certain, and it seems as sure as the sun will rise in the east that I'll be off on some adventures as soon as the weather gets good. In a lot of respects being a teacher is like being a student, you deal with some mature and some very immature folk during the day, usually find yourself burning the midnight oil over some problem or other and the holidays are at much the same time. I guess the main difference is that I get paid now!

Anyway to kick off the summer break I headed over to Ballina on the west coast of Ireland to perform at the GGI festival with Thisclose. GGI stands for Glasgow Groningen and Ireland and is a DIY punk festival with revolves around those 3 locations (how the Irish got away with having their entire country as a possible location I don't know but I can tell you that the 'Glasgow' fest was held in Edinburgh a few years ago!) The fest itself was held in a barn next to a golf course and provided an great location for the 100/150 or so that attended to party. I only stayed for the Saturday but all the bands I saw were excellent, my favourites being Rats Blood - check em out! Sadly I somehow missed Droppin Bombs who I'd seen in Edinburgh a few years ago and had been looking forward to seeing again, another top shelf band that you can check out here.

Our own performance was certainly a highlight of of our short existence, a wild crowd response that I truly didn't expect, we even had folk singing along to some of the songs in the Rodney voice! Now that was fun, thank you Eire!

The week post GGI was spent back in the Kingdom, enjoying the weather and inspirational surrounds doing a bit of gardening and helping friends with some building work, but all the time psyching myself up for the next leg of my journey  - a cycle trip from Fife to South Uist!

Ever since I inherited my bike in 2010 I'd wanted to take her on a long distance ride. many people had derided this idea, they'd say I wasn't fit enough, or the bike was to heavy (steel frame) and not suited to long rides. Well anyone who knows me will know that those kind of comments will only make me want to rise to the challenge! I gave myself 8 days to complete this challenge starting last Sunday, but completed it in 5. here's the scoop.

I set off around 10.30am on  Sunday morning, I'd have left earlier but I had to first repair the bike a little and spent an hour looking for something i could steal a suitably sized washer from, eventually finding one rusting at the bottom of an old tool box - always worth holding onto bits and bobs they might come in handy, even 20 years later! Springfield to Perth was my first leg and a journey I am minutely knowledgeable of as a car user so it was great to cycle the same route on such a beautiful day and experience the landscape through fresh eyes. A woman I met later on this trip described Fife as 'God's Country', I'd be hard pushed to disagree (well, accept i don't believe in god...).

North of Perth where I first 'hit the wall' on this trip.

Once I reached Perth my bourgeois vegan tendencies dictated that I should enjoy a soya latte before pushing on, because I knew it was the last place i would be able to get one on this trip! The ride north of Perth to Pitlochry follows a cycle path which is comfortable and provides some excellent views, I'd ridden it before and I'd recommend it to everyone as a fun afternoon cycle (you can easily take the train to Perth and leave from Pitlochry station with the bike). When i arrived in Pitlochry I caught the very end of the tennis in a chip shop which I was pretty chuffed about. After i scoffed my chips i realised i didn't know how to go north from Pitlochry and so stopped an old boy on a bike and asked him for the local brief. He sent me off in a certain direction towards a town named Calvine which he claimed was about 6 miles away. I cycled until I felt I was gonna fall off the bike and then set up my tent, underneath the A9 of all places, unsure if I was just outside Calvine or if it was still miles in front of me.

 Somewhere near Calvine, perhaps Calvine itself.

As it tuned out Calvine was still quite a bit in front of me and set a precedent for the trip, getting up early, cycling ten miles or so and then having my breakfast proper. I didn't have much choice but to get up early though, I was lying in a tent under the main road between Perth and Inverness it was noisy from 6am onward! Dalwhinnie was my first main destination and once I found Calvine I was on the cycle path heading north again. this cycle path which runs along the side of the A9 is simply fantastic, mountains on either side of you as you climb through Glen Garry and a wealth of wildlife, I saw several Osprey and even an adder!

 In the depths of Glen Garry

Dalwhinnie to Spean Bridge, my second days main destination, was a further 35 miles, and although i was this time riding on the main road, it was equally enjoyable. The first craic i got was running into a flock of sheep being herded down the road by a crofter. i walked along with him and had the craic, funny guy with a warm heart, but I was glad to wish him luck with the next days shearing and get on my way with all the miles that were in front of me.

 "Some folk just like to complain, they'll no be complaining when they're eaten them"

Again, I was really tired and hot towards the end of my days journey, at one point I passed a lot of people swimming in a river, I really wanted to join them but i knew i wouldn't make the target if i stopped! I didn't make it to Spean Bridge however, I could feel my legs failing on me and had made up my mind that my sweaty, sore corpse needed a shower and bed that night, and so some miles before Spean Bridge I started looking for a hostel to lay my weary head, and I ended up stopping in one near a place called Tulloch. the only other folk there were some Londoners with all fancy bike gear who pretty much called me a stupid Jock and were banging on about king Alex Salmond, I just pretended i thought they were from South Africa because of their accent.

"So your from South Africa?"
"No London mate!"
"There's a London in South Africa?"

And so on. It was about as witty as i could manage in my dilapidated state.

 Familiar sight from the Inverness to Fort William road

When i woke on the third day i already new I was gonna be taking it easy. The whole week previous to this trip I'd been trying to get hold of a mate on Skye I wanted to visit but i could never get him on the phone, but that night in Tulloch I'd go through to his house. It wasn't him that answered the phone however but Deek from Oi Polloi who was up doing a bit of house sitting with the family, a great excuse for me to take the train from fort William to Mallaig as I couldn't have cycled the 100 mile distance in a day even in tip top condition. i cycled into Fort William and visited the Museum of the West Highlands, hoping to find some information on the Gaelic poet Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair. Any info on this legend was sadly lacking from their exhibition but I bought a book which has just been published about him which contains a wealth of information which was all new to me, and which kept me contented on the the train to Mallaig and over the sea to Skye! After a short 9 miles on the bike i arrived at my friends house just in time to enjoy dinner with Deek and his family, a nice end to a relaxed day.

 burning up on Skye

The forth day, whilst enjoyable, was also quite uneventful. The ride from one end of Skye to the other is one I've completed on many occasions and so the exitement of discovery that'd I'd enjoyed on the mainland wasn't there and i was also starting to feel every sadle-sore. that's not to say that the journey is not a magnificent one, as my pics hopefully demonstrate, and the weather was still with me. There a was a bit of a breeze this day which effected my opinion of how hot it actually was and when I arrived at the ferry port in Uig with 20 minutes to spare I realised that i had acquired some pretty nasty sun burn on my legs and the back of my hands.

 Up and over on the Isle of Skye

From Uig I took the ferry to Lochmaddy in North Uist. when i arrived it was nearly 9pm and there was a thick fog all around. I decided that a hostel would be a good call and found one on the edge of town, to be honest though it was pretty grim and a poor cousin to the one I visited in Tulloch, still a beds a bed. I woke up in the night from the pain in my shoulders, knees and my sunburn.

 For some reason it doesn't look flat here, it is!

Lochmadddy to Lochboisdale in South Uist, my final destination, is not a long ride, but I knew in my state that i would need to get up early and get back on the horse if I was gonna get there in anything resembling a sensible amount of time. North Uist is very flat, and the early morning mist added an eerie element to the environment. Stupidly I set off without eating anything having been told their was a coop 10 miles down the road. It was 10 miles away, just not 10 miles down the road I was following! the first shop I came across was Stor a' Chlachain where i managed to rustle up a banquet of bourbon biscuits, coffee, bananas and apples - probably not the nutritious meal I was desperately in need of.

 the home of not so nutritious vegan eating in North Uist!

The sun didn't break through the mist until about 1pm by which point I'd struggled as far as Benbecula and had a bowl of soup and some chips in a hotel bar, before taking forty-winks on the grass outside where I secretly listened in to the local folk gossiping away in Gaelic which was pretty cool to hear, alive in the community! My main aim for the day, besides ending up near my final the ferry port which would whisk me to Oban from where i would then travel on to Glasgow by train, was to meet some friends who were on holiday in South Uist, and when they phoned me around 4pm offering a lift for the last 10 miles I gladly accepted, I was spent.


Clear of mist I really enjoyed the South Uist scenery which I felt was a little more dynamic than the north and i spent a happy half hour with my arse parked on the beach soaking in the sea air. My visit to the Uists was completed with a visit to a local ceilidh where I probably inadvisedly took part in a few dances, but its hard to stop yourself once you hear the roar of the accordion! My efforts on the dance floor were obviously the final nails in the coffin and I slunk off during the interval to my tent on the moor. Early the next day I headed down to the ferry port and left the Hebrides, and my cycling odyssey behind me.

Excellent tent erecting skills....

Some facts about my bike and equipment.

The Bike.

The bike is an old steel frame mountain bike with a few modifications, 'slick' tires to make her move faster and 'rapid-fire' gear changers to aid in getting up and down the gears on hilly terrain. Both these are cheap to buy and easy to fit, check youtube for videos. The gear changers are perhaps more of a luxury but i would definitely recommend putting a good pair of 'slick' tires on your bike if you intend to cycle a long distance.

My bike has also had a rear rack added to accommodate 2 pannier bags. A rack can be picked up cheap and is a doddle to to attach, definitely needed if you are going to carry luggage.

No fancy saddle or pedals or handle bars or ultralight carbon fibre frame - they would probably have made the journey a little easier or comfortable, but weren't necessary.


I took a minimum of cycle repair stuff, tools for taking of wheels and repairing punctures and a spare inner tube, tent, sleeping bag, water proof jacket and trousers and some spare underwear. I also wore padded cycle shorts - they made a BIG difference. again if I'd worn all skin tight cycle stuff I might have been more aero-dynamic, but i would also have looked like a twat. Although I had very little luggage I felt that i used very little of it and I think next time i would plan my trip around staying at hostels and just take a small ruck sack with the absolute essentials, although not particularly heavy i think the full panniers added considerably to my overall 'drag'.

I did feel like a bit of a twat at the Lochboisdale ferry port where there were about 12 cyclists lined up and every single one of us sporting Ortileb pannier bags but to be fair they are the best out there and if you do a lot of cycling then those are the ones you should invest in, you just wasting your money if you buy cheaper ones which will break or lose their 'waterproofness' after a few heavy showers.

 Some of the Ortileb fan-club

Some top tips based on things I learned the hard way!

Make sure you have plenty of water, drink all the time and make sure you've topped up supplies before camping in the wilderness.

Make sure you cover yourself properly in sun cream and keep it topped up, it might seem cool because of the wind but your actually burning!

Have a good think about what you will need on your trip and try not to bring any crap you wont need or use,

Similarly buy food as you go along, you might save a bit of cash taking a camping stove and buying food in bulk etc but its all extra weight.

take your time, I think I was in too much of a rush and could have broken my journey down over several more days allowing more time to actually stop and enjoy the area more rather than just sit on my bike all day.